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Parenting is difficult. There are many highs and many lows and all the in-betweens. As much as we wish the kids came with a manual tucked under the hospital blanket, we’re left to wonder for 18 years (or more), figuring out if they turned out all right. Constantly worrying is like a prerequisite for being a parent. Raising emotionally sound children and healthy children is a task in and of itself. Outside forces do their best to wear down kids and break their spirits. Illnesses and diseases disrupt lives. Developmental delays cause excessive worry. Bullying results in fear for safety.
Now more than ever, support is crucial in helping children overcome life’s greatest obstacles. Support first starts with parents, but it’s not their duty only to make sure their child’s wellbeing is upheld. School staff, extended family members, and the immediate community should all do their part to ensure every child is unscathed. This is especially important for kids born intersex or who identify as transgender.
In recent years, the LGBT community has added more and more sexual orientations and gender identities to the acronym. LGBT quickly transformed into LGBTQIA+ to include others who don’t fit a particular identity. While transgender, queer, intersex, and asexuality have recently become topics of great debate, individuals who align with these identities have been around for millennia.
Children develop a strong sense of self from a very early age. Although parents (try as they may) police their children into conforming to binary gender norms, there are those kids who have an innate inclination to follow their own hearts.
It isn’t easy to accept that a child is transgender. When a boy plays dress-up instead of playing in the mud, it makes people uncomfortable. His sexuality is immediately put in question, and the parents dismiss it as a phase. It isn’t until he utters the words, “I am a girl,” that the parents start to take his actions seriously.
Intersex simply means a variation of sex characteristics that don’t fit the “standard” gender binary. Some intersex children are born with ambiguous genitalia, some don’t realize they’re intersex until puberty, and others go their whole lives without ever knowing. The controversy with intersex individuals stems from surgical procedures the parents consent to be performed on their child. Typically, medical personnel see genital abnormalities as something that should be corrected early on in the child’s life. That way the parents can raise their child as either a boy or girl, depending on the type of surgery. The problem with this is: What if the child grows up feeling uncomfortable in his or her own skin? The feeling that something is wrong often leads to gender dysphoria: a feeling of distress due to one’s biological sex not matching with one’s gender identity.
Dos and Don’ts
As with any parenting issue, there are dos and don’ts to help you steer in the right direction. Know this is a difficult matter for any parent. Instead of viewing it as only a problem you face, see it as extremely hard for the child as well. If there’s any takeaway point from this article, it should be this: It is not about you. This is about your child or any children out there who are crawling in their skin, desperately trying to figure out themselves. While this child is likely to face adversity and discrimination from the outside world, that behavior is inexcusable from parents. Our main job as parents is to raise happy, healthy adults. Their innate gender identity has nothing to do with us. They are the ones going through inner turmoil.
With that said, here are tips to accommodate parents going through these situations.
- Use correct pronouns when referencing a transgender child. When transgender individuals have transitioned or are in the process of transitioning, they will start to reference themselves as the opposite gender. “She” now becomes “he.” “Anna” is now “Andrew.” In order to validate the transition, it’s crucial to recognize the child you had before is no longer. Support for the decision starts with viewing them as another gender. Failure to use the right pronouns or saying “it” or “he/she” can make the child feel dismissed, belittled, or upset. (Please also note the “he/she” binary doesn’t have to be used at all. For intersex or transgender kids who choose not to identify with any particular gender, you may use “they” or “ze.”)
- Do not consent to genital surgical procedures unless absolutely necessary. Children born visibly intersex (ambiguous genitalia) are often referred to a doctor who will perform surgery in order to “correct” the newborn’s genitals. This is not medically necessary. If the parents choose what gender they want for their child, the child may grow up to identify with the opposite gender assigned at birth. Only when constant illness or infections arise should any surgery be taken into consideration. The child should be able to choose if and when surgery is wanted.
- Get in touch with a therapist trained in sex and gender issues as well as a peer support group. The transition of a child affects the whole family. Learning how to properly respond to the situation will make life a lot easier. Talking through your concerns with a professional and with other parents going through similar situations will help you gain insight into how to cope. Have other siblings get involved too!
- Most important, love on them! You don’t have to be LGBTQIA+ to show empathy or support to transgender or intersex individuals; all you have to do is be an ally. You don’t have to make grandiose gestures to show you care. Simply taking the time to hear them out about their struggles or asking questions about their transition means a lot. Even though you might not understand the answers, at least it shows you’re doing the best to normalize the situation. No child should feel alienated or alone.
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As a 42 year old non-binary Intersex person I can’t thank you enough for posting about this. I wish my conservative Christian parents would have had access to this info in the 70’s.
Thank you for sharing such good, inclusive info.
Very well written. Proud dad.
Well said, Bianca. I’m proud of you.
Excellent article. Ive learned it really isn’t that hard to adapt to whatever name and gender a person asks you to respect. We call people by names that aren’t their birth names all the time. Thank you for posting this!
Thank you for including this information in your blog! A blessing to see someone willing to be so supportive and open with the information!